Regret is the beast you can’t ignore; an obnoxious locker troll cramming moldy cheese sandwiches and rancid gym socks into every nook – polluting otherwise palatable, even enjoyable memories with its vile, unrelenting stench of decay and failure. Regret sticks its ugly mug in your business every time you endeavor to move on, as if to say, “Hi – I’m still here… want some cheese sandwich?”
Such regret makes its victim wish to become intangible – bereft of sensation – made of wood. This is the sentiment movingly captured in song by Anne Elliot, heroine of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, as elegantly presented in the Taproot Theatre musical now playing through August 26th at the Jewell Mainstage in Ballard. Utilizing brilliantly crafted, and masterfully executed theatrical devices, we enter into Anne’s troubled mind in the midst of a flurry of interactions between other characters. There, while completely surrounded by and thoroughly disconnected from, family and friends, she plaintively cries out inside, “I’m made of wood! I’m made of wood!” desperately seeking relief, or even just inurement from years-long heartache. But this sentiment can’t shield her from the regrettable cause of her lament.
Anne is an unmarried young upper-class woman approaching 30, (practically an old maid in Regency-era England – a period two centuries ago). Eight years prior, on the counsel of her class-conscious godmother, Anne suspended the courtship of her true love, Captain Robert Wentworth (presented as a flashback, vividly communicated through the theatrical genius of Taproot’s production team). The young naval officer plunges himself into an ocean at war to bury his distraught heart in the perils of sea-faring battle with Napoleon’s fleets, vowing to return after making his fortune – but not to the young woman who had so callously broken his heart.
Now, nearly a decade later, their paths cross again in a most unexpected manner, but neither sees a way to reignite love’s former flame. Between the continuing disapproval of Anne’s upper-class family, and the interest of other would-be suitors (and would-be eligible ladies), their reconnection appears destined a cruel joke of fate, while regret over ending their romance weighs about Anne’s neck like an anchor from Captain Wentworth’s victorious frigate. Yet, in her heart, the barest hope of a restoration continues to haunt those remorse-stained recesses where their relationship had once flourished. Against all hope, Anne continues to hope – her deeply wounded heart bridging the endless chasm between the loss of true love and the faintest glimmer of its renewal.
Not dissimilarly for many of us, youth is filled with hope and expectations – before life lands a few swift kicks to the gut, and clean blows to the nose – often knocking the blood, stuffing and dreams from us. Maturity forces us to reassess which hopes are truly lost, and which are still possibly worth pursuing – but in the process of laying our heart, bare and bloody, upon the slab, it’s wisdom which discerns the voices to heed in making those difficult decisions. Recognizing that we all must live our own lives, it’s prudent to ask whether the counselors and confidants pushing us in directions alien to our deepest desires have done the most seamstressly job of assembling a sensible life quilt with their own pile of materials; and are they offering heartfelt advice from hard-learned lessons, or just exercising a vested interest in persuading us to follow a certain course of action?
King Solomon put it this way in Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Deferring hope doesn’t mean putting off a good thing for a better time – which may sometimes be the best course of action – but refers rather to that blacking out of the heart’s lamp from ever seeing desire’s fulfillment. That is a sure path to a broken spirit.
And while hope can’t guarantee the fruition of some desires, our heart’s well-being requires hoping in something better from life, even if it is only to be found in the life beyond this one; for it’s such hope that awakens our spirit to rise above the pain of regret – that keeps us from emotionally disconnecting from the ones we love – that prevents our becoming as callous and insensitive as a dead log, because as Anne concedes at the story’s end, we are not made of wood.